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The art of simple messaging

GUEST POST: Callum Attew is a Senior Account Executive at ENGINE MHP. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Has the Government been an effective communicator throughout the pandemic? 

The original slogan deployed by Her Majesty’s Government – in response to the coronavirus pandemic – reached every household across all four UK nations. It’s a clear message that conveyed a sense of urgency. It also instilled a sense of duty among the public; that, in order to protect our loved ones, as well as our much treasured NHS, everyone must play their part. 

With Google data (April 5, 2020) showing that retail and recreation movement had fallen by 82% compared to the baseline, it was apparent that the language – leveraged across all advertising channels and lecterns at the daily press briefings – really resonated with the British people. 

Now, we’ve seen this messaging logic before – it’s nothing new. “Get Brexit done” and “Take back control” spring to mind as recent examples of how the ‘rule of three’ has been used to condense seemingly complex issues into digestible pledges. It’s a tried and tested formula that delivers solid results.

As we move through this crisis, and as the strategy to defeat the virus becomes convoluted, there is potential for messaging to become muddied. Indeed, if a slogan is mistaken as a substitute for detail, then the frailties of the communications strategy will be laid bare for all to see.  

When the Government unveiled its new slogan, instructing the British public to “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives”, there was an initial sense of confusion, among the media at least, as to what it wanted the public to do. While it appeared that the clarity of the initial message had been lost, it would’ve been naïve to suggest that the Government had lost control of the messaging. Indeed, as the strategy shifts, it would be detrimental to its success for the message to remain static. 

The Prime Minister’s ‘Address to the Nation’ on Sunday evening, where a new slogan was given its debut, may have initially left the public wanting details to the questions that it raised. However, from a communications perspective it was vital. In pivotal moments in the nation’s history, it is incumbent on any prime minister to go to the people and explain the situation that the country finds itself in and outline how the government intends to guide them through it. This was one of those moments. 

The changes to the strategy had to be understood by everyone – from the 18-year-old in Newcastle, wanting to meet-up with friends, to the 80-year-old grandmother in Nuneaton, who wants to hug her grandchildren. 

This is where building on the Prime Minister’s statement, and the supplementary documents provided by the Government, is vital in providing clarity – in this sense, the messenger becomes just as important as the message. 

On Monday, the Prime Minister was once again flanked by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance at the daily press briefing. The public needed reassurance that what is being asked of them is in their best interests and will not compromise their health. Scientific experts are the individuals best placed to provide this message and earn trust.   

The Government is also placing a large degree of trust in the public to take note of the subtle changes to the lockdown period and to respect what is being asked of them when it comes to social distancing initiatives. And, in order to ‘Stay alert’, a large degree of common sense is at play – it would be over fastidious to expect a handbook with a Q&A of every single possible situation that may arise, and such a thing would call into question the relationship between citizen and state. 

So, in answer to the original question – yes, at times government messaging has been incredibly effective. Though, let’s not forget that it has come up against its challenges. Now, as individual UK nations seek to implement different measures, the message is at risk of being confused. Clarity and direction need to be at the heart of future communications. Discipline of message cannot be lost. The health of the nation depends on it. 

I look forward to seeing the results of the CiC Census 2020, but these are my initial thoughts!

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Networking – the key to success

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

Conservatives in Communications is open to all communicators who identify with the aims and values of the UK Conservative Party. Its chair, directors, patrons and supporters include politicians and journalists as well as communications professionals from every branch of that broad discipline.

However, given the political connection it is not surprising that public affairs professionals make up a substantial proportion of the CiC membership. Public affairs – or lobbying – is often regarded by outsiders as being some sort of dark and mysterious art. In reality, it is a straight-forward trade, with few secrets, but also few short-cuts.

I have worked in public affairs for 40 years, at large and small consultancies, in-house and as a freelancer. Sometimes, I am asked if there is a secret to the (admittedly modest) success I’ve enjoyed. My response is always that there is no secret, but there is a key. That key is relationships.

But, relationships have to be instigated and established, and then constantly nurtured. And that takes time. Because instigating and then establishing and then deepening relationships can only be done through networking – often outside of office hours.

So, over the course of my career, I’ve joined every trade and professional body I can, and used every networking opportunity that presents itself. Apart from Conservatives in Communications (which I helped to set up), I’ve joined (and sometimes headed) the CIPR, Government Affairs Group, PRCA and The Enterprise Forum. On top of these formal bodies, I have also supported and attended events ranging from PubAffairs Networking to (back in the day) Village Drinks. Then, of course, there are the party conferences – every networkers’ wet dream!

I did all this because I enjoy socialising, and let’s be honest – I also enjoy the occasional drink. But more than that, way more than that, attending networking events enables you to make new contacts and reinforce relationships. They help you to break out of the echo chamber and talk to people with different political views and colleagues from different communications disciplines. They enable you to promote your own views, but even more importantly, to listen to and argue with people from different backgrounds who hold divergent views. And, if you decide to write a book (plug alert), such as Lobbying, the Art of Political Persuasion, networking will help you to persuade people to contribute passages to the book – and maybe even to buy a copy!

So, if you want to get on in the wonderful overlapping worlds of politics and communications, my advice is to network like crazy, and to cherish and nurture the relationships that flow from those varying events.

And, if you are a Conservative and work in communications – I’m sure that you know what to do…

This piece was written for our website.

Inaugural network survey

Today, we are pleased to launch our inaugural network survey – Conservatives in Communications (CiC) Census 2020 – and invite all supporters to participate! This is your once-a-year opportunity to provide feedback, so we can better serve you and add more value going forward.

ONLY SUPPORTERS CAN PARTICIPATE. CHECK EMAIL FOR LINK

As you will know, we are an independent and informal industry network that presents like-minded individuals with the opportunity to mingle, gossip and share ideas, and, where appropriate, provide sector expertise to the Party machine.

We relaunched in 2019 – with a new chair and directors, a website and some social media – and our mission is to be more dynamic, proactive, diverse and transparent than in previous years. Please do take a moment to review what we consider to be our top 10 achievements to date:

  • Rebuilt the network to 400 professionals, from a real variety of backgrounds
  • Expanded our pool of industry patrons and directors
  • Created 19 parliamentary patrons (that’s one peer and 18 MPs – a majority from the 2019 intake)
  • Brought on board someone to support and develop Young Tories in Comms
  • Organised and invited you to three networking receptions in Westminster and outside the bubble, with the home secretary and two former directors of communications at No.10
  • Partnered with BECG, Ellwood Atfield and Kekst CNC to sponsor and host those occasions, so that we have zero debt
  • Campaigned for several supporters, of whom six were elected MPs
  • Published and promoted 24 blog posts – from the team and our supporters – several of which have been republished on conservative news sites
  • Circulated regular e-newsletters and migrated database from Google over to MailChimp
  • Grown our social community on LinkedIn and Twitter. Remember to follow us!

This survey should take you no longer than 10 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous – we will not know who’s provided which answers. Deadline: 5pm on Wednesday, May 20.

While all the raw data and copy will remain internal, by participating in this survey you agree to us publicising – on an aggregated basis – any, and all, findings.

Best wishes,

Adam, Aisha and Alec

P.S. Check out Adam’s latest blog post on getting more women involved!

“Tories in Comms has accomplished a lot in 12 months and I believe it has a bright future; adding value to supporters’ professional and personal lives. Based on the conversations I’ve had, there is real appetite to do even more – we just need to agree on the priorities. This survey presents the perfect opportunity to do just that. Thanks in advance for your contribution!”

–Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications and CiC

“I’ve been a supporter of Tories in Comms for several years and was grateful for your support during the general election campaign. I would recommend the group to all conservatives in communications, so that they benefit from the networking and business development opportunities as well as the chance to contribute ideas and content via its blog and newsletter.”

–Theo Clarke MP, Patron and an early Supporter of CiC

Tories in Comms marks first anniversary since relaunch

Invites supporters to complete inaugural survey, including reaction to Covid-19 strategy

Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the independent and informal industry network for professionals, marks one year since the group was relaunched.

The network now boasts almost 400 supporters from a variety of backgrounds. Iain Anderson and Kulveer Ranger are among those providing business expertise as industry patrons, while circa 20 peers and MPs – largely from the 2010, 2015 and 2019 intakes – form a new tier of parliamentary patrons who represent a number of different interests.

Katie Perrior, chair of iNHouse Communications and a former Director of Communications at No.10, remains as figurehead of the group. Adam Honeysett-Watts – with the support of Aisha Vance-Cuthbert and Alec Zetter – manage day-to-day operations. Finley Morris was recently brought on to develop and drive its dedicated youth effort.

The network has organised a number of events in Westminster and off Fleet Street, including a Q&A with the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and a panel discussion about lessons learned from the general election campaign, featuring Sir Robbie Gibb, Professor Matthew Goodwin and Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome.com. BECG, Ellwood Atfield and Kekst CNC sponsored them.

In addition, the group has an active industry blog and circulates regular e-newsletters; the latest of which encourages supporters to participate in its inaugural survey: Conservatives in Communications (CiC) Census 2020. The census is being billed as a “once-a-year opportunity to provide feedback, so we can better serve you and add more value going forward.”

The survey comes at a critical time for the industry as professionals get to grip with Covid-19. It includes questions about the government’s communications strategy, current and future slogans, highly rated Cabinet ministers, future televised press briefings, trustworthiness of the media, flexible working and work from home (WFH) schemes, and an optimism tracker.

Adam Honeysett-Watts, Principal Director, said:

“We’ve made good progress towards our mission to be a more dynamic, proactive, diverse and transparent industry resource. That said, there is much more we could and should be doing – when it comes to getting more women involved – so, we look forward to analysing the results, determining priorities and acting on them over the next year.”

For more information, including how to sign-up for events, email us. The findings are expected to be published in late May.

On getting more women involved

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

I’m biased towards women. There, I said it.

Some of the best people I’ve worked with are women. Some of the best people I’ve hired are women. Some of the best people who’ve managed me are women. Some of the best people I’ve campaigned for are women and, some of my best moments include developing networks* for women.

You’ll find great women throughout the history books. Take The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson for instance. Here, he discusses how the Roman Empire achieved political and cultural unity in Europe, and compares it to the failure of the European Union to do the same. We’re introduced to one of the most prominent women in Rome’s history : Octavia the Younger (69–11 BC) was the sister of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, and the fourth wife of Mark Antony – who had an affair with Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. She became a political adviser and negotiator between her husband and brother, and was respected and admired by contemporaries for her loyalty to Rome.

Fast forward two millennia and travel two thousand kilometres to when and where another woman had risen to the top. The Leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher, was the first woman to be elected Prime Minister in the UK. During the 1975 Tory leadership election, she famously said this:

If you want anything done, ask a woman.

Now, I’m not going to argue with the Iron Lady! Last year, when I spotted an opportunity I worked with two women to get it done: Carol Freeman and I persuaded a former director of communications at No.10, Katie Perrior, to chair the network we wanted to relaunch – whose mission includes being more diverse. And, when Carol moved her family to the West Coast, I asked Aisha Vance-Cuthbert to step up.

Over 12 months, we’ve rebuilt Conservatives in Communications to almost 400 professionals, including 19 parliamentary patrons like Joy Morrissey, Nickie Aiken, Siobhan Baillie and Theo Clarke. We’ve hosted three events, including one with the Home Secretary Priti Patel. And, we’ve tasked individuals with establishing effective ways to improve diversity among our ranks.

That said, as of writing this, I guestimate only a quarter of our supporters are women. It’s clear to me and the whole team that we could and should be doing more – as a sector and a network – to encourage greater participation.

Next week, we will launch our inaugural survey – Conservatives in Communications (CiC) Census 2020 – an opportunity for supporters to give constructive feedback and make suggestions anonymously. I hope supporters take advantage of this, because, together, we can and will make a difference.

I look forward to seeing the final results and reading your comments, and to implementing the proposed recommendations. As a former board member, and adviser to the president, of UN Women UK, I’m going to practice what I preached then about equality and continue to encourage all genders to partake as agents of change.

* UN Women UK, DTCC Women’s Network in London and Conservatives in Communications

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website. I’ve opened up the comments section.

A lockdown readathon

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

I’ve been badgering folks to read more during the lockdown and decided to document them here (c.6,200 pages so far). The only sequence to the below is the order in which I finished them. This list combines non-fiction and fiction titles as well as political and non-political genres.

For consistency, all links direct to publisher sites or Amazon. For availability, check with your independent bookseller before online retailers. Publisher information relates to the copies I own.

WEEK TWELVE

23. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America by Donald J. Trump

Simon & Schuster | 2016 | Paperback | 208 pages

I didn’t read this in 2016, however I decided to now since he’s seeking re-election. In a similar vein to ‘The MAGA Doctrine’, you get a better feel what the 45th President of the US does and doesn’t believe, but this time you get to judge him on his record in office as well as in business. I wonder if Boris has read it too (“get it done” p.123 and “shovel-ready projects” p.165)?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

WEEK ELEVEN

22. Party Games by Fiona Cuthbertson

Blossom Spring | 2020 | Paperback | 315 pages

Fiona’s first novel addresses love and corruption in the seat of power – from a female perspective. However, for anyone – of either sex, who has worked in Parliament or on Whitehall, I believe they will enjoy this – and perhaps associate with some of the content – and look forward to her second book, which is in the works.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

21. First Confession: A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten

Penguin | 2017 | Hardback | 320 pages

A man who’s been there at pivotal moments: Chairman of the Party (winning the 1992 election, but losing his own Bath seat), the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland (pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement) and Chairman of the BBC Trust (when the Jimmy Savile scandal broke). Absolutely captivating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WEEK TEN

20. Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove

Weidenfeld & Nicolson | 2006 | Hardback | 160 pages

I only learned about this text having read Owen Bennett’s book on the man (see below), but glad I did. In writing ‘Celsius 7/7’, which describes how the West’s policy of appeasement has provoked yet more fundamentalist terror, Gove names both Dominic Cummings and Douglas Murray among those whose conversations and ideas helped shape his thinking.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

19. Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by Owen Bennett

Biteback | 2019 | Hardback | 432 pages

Ignoring the endless typos (I have never spotted so many typos in one book – did anyone proof it?), I really enjoyed reading this biography. The author successfully combines old and fresh information to tell us the story about one of the most recognisable and central characters in British politics today.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WEEK NINE

18. The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

Penguin | 2017 | Paperback | 160 pages

The celebrated artist and media personality Grayson Perry explores masculinity. In short, I think it is well written (and illustrated) – although it took me a while to get into it; however, I didn’t feel there was anything new and therefore, at best, it’s a conversation starter (perhaps that alone might be considered a success?)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

17. Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos

Dangerous | 2017 | Hardback | 232 pages

Akin to ‘Campus Battlefield’, I’d heard mixed reviews and all of the drama around its release just made me want to read it more. The reality, in my opinion, is that the contents of the book, while certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, are far less controversial than its publication (even boring in parts) – conservatives will largely agree with his message while liberals will largely disagree.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

WEEK EIGHT

16. My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Penguin | 2014 | Paperback | 96 pages

Described by The Economist as “the Kremlin’s leading critic-in-exile” (after eight years inside he now resides in London), this is a selection of brilliantly written essays about the author’s first hand accounts of prison life and the people he encountered. It is a clever and quick read, and more people should be made aware of it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

15. Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can Win the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters by Charlie Kirk

Post Hill Press | 2018 | Hardback | 160 pages

I’d read mixed reviews about this, but purchased a copy, since I enjoyed ‘The MAGA Doctrine’ and wanted to see whether Charlie’s experiences resonated with my own young conservative days. Bit pricey, considering how short the text is; however, there’s good intention and some decent content – if you ignore the partisan approach, marketing pitch and re-printings of his tweets!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

WEEK SEVEN

14. The Wages of Spin by Bernard Ingham

John Murray | 2003 | Hardback | 272 pages

This week marks over three decades since Britain elected its first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Sir Bernard’s a journalist and former civil servant, who served as the Iron Lady’s chief press secretary throughout her time in No10. We hear first-hand (and slowly) how spin-doctoring developed, from the man who is wrongly attributed with its invention.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

13. The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2007 | Paperback | 304 pages

Now shadow education minister, here, he discusses how the Roman Empire achieved political and cultural unity in Europe, and compares it to the failure of the European Union to do the same. Not usually one for historical books, this is both an authoritative and amusing study – with plenty of lessons for all of us – and I read it in a few sittings.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WEEK SIX

12. Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America by Steve Hilton

Penguin | 2018 | Hardback | 240 pages

Along with another Steve (Bannon) and Dominic Cummings, Hilton is one of the political mavericks of our age. Here – in a similar vein to his ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ (Conservative Party 2010 manifesto) – he begins with an ‘invitation for you to participate in the next revolution’ and puts forward interesting ideas on the economy, society and government.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

11. Have I Got Views for You by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2008 | Paperback | 448 pages            

Published just after he was elected as Mayor of London (first term), this is an anthology of some of his best articles for the Daily Telegraph – such as observations on British society and foreign affairs (including China) – coupled with several new hits. As with both ‘Friends, Voters, Countrymen’ and ‘The Churchill Factor’, this is educational, entertaining and easy to read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WEEK FIVE

10. Matteo Salvini: Italy, Europe and the New Right by Alessandro Franzi & Alessandro Madron

goWare | 2019 | Paperback | 104 pages

This is a map that seeks to answer one simple question: who is Matteo Salvini, really? As both vice-prime minister and minister of the interior (in 2018) the number of non-European illegal immigrants to land in Italy fell by 100,000, and – if current polls are to be believed and his digital and media strategy is anything to go by – he is on course to become their next prime minister.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

9. Seventy Two Virgins by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2005 | Paperback | 336 pages

Now shadow arts minister, this was his first novel to be published, thereby making him the third novelist – after Disraeli and Churchill – to become prime minister. POTUS is set to address both Houses of Parliament and there’s an Islamist terrorist plot to assassinate him – Roger Barlow, a hapless backbench MP (hapless like the book), aims to foil the attack to distract from a scandal.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

WEEK FOUR

8. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray

Bloomsbury | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages

The Literary Review is spot on here: “Disagree passionately if you will, but you won’t regret reading it.” The author dares to tread where others have avoided like the plague – focusing on three traditionally sensitive topics – however, in my opinion, he does it all rather well; although, perhaps, it could have been written with half as many words.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7. Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the Stump by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2002 | Paperback | 288 pages

Like ‘The Gatekeeper’ – albeit early on in his career – this memoir, of his campaign to become the MP for Henley and endorsed by Jeremy Paxman, is essential reading for any Tory candidate. It is both educational and entertaining, and reflective of his style for the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, including phrases that are now synonymous with him.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WEEK THREE

6. Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us by Donald Trump, Jr.

Center Street | 2019 | Hardback | 304 pages

This is a wide-ranging and colourful book – think Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson on speed – that covers everything from his childhood to the present day and beyond. If you’ve seen some of his posts or follow Donald Trump, Jr. on social media and you’re (i) a conservative – you will love it, but if you’re (ii) anything else – I can’t really guarantee your reaction.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

5. The Gatekeeper by Kate Fall

HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 272 pages

The Baroness was at the heart of David Cameron’s administration for over a decade. As one of the former prime minister’s most trusted advisors (deputy chief of staff), this is a must-read for any past, current and wannabe media or policy SpAd; it is full to the brim with snippets of information, including several new revelations.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

WEEK TWO

4. Find Me by André Aciman

Faber & Faber | 2019 | Hardback | 272 pages

Billed as the sequel to ‘Call Me by Your Name’, this novel focuses on three romances: that of Elio’s father and a younger woman, called Miranda; that of Elio and an older man, called Michel; and that of Elio and yes, Oliver. If you discovered the former, you should definitely read this; though a word of warning – manage your expectations.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

3. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

Atlantic | 2009 | Paperback | 256 pages

Set in 1980s Italy – in fact, the film was directed about an hour from Salvini’s hometown of Milan – this real page-turner centres on the blossoming relationship between an intellectually precocious and curious teenager, Elio, and a visiting scholar, Oliver. It chronicles their short, summer romance and the 20 years that follow, which is developed in the sequel ‘Find Me’.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

WEEK ONE

2. National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Roger Eatwell & Matthew Goodwin

Penguin | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages

Professor Goodwin brought up ‘national populism’ – the 21st century conundrum, including MAGA, that’s challenging mainstream politics – at the Conservatives in Communications Spring 2020 Reception. This text goes further – beyond lazy stereotypes of Brexit and Trump supporters – and looks at what is next: will Matteo Salvini become the next Prime Minister of Italy?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

1. The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future by Charlie Kirk

HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 256 pages            

Love him or loathe him, Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the US; but, how did we end up here? Turning Point USA’s founder-president sets out the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) stall – the movement that brought Trump to the White House – and how he intends to win a second term (clue: ‘Keep America Great’ is the new slogan).

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Lionel’s pub quiz

Lionel Zetter, Patron, has put together a quiz for PRCA members / guests, and they invite Conservatives in Communications to participate.

  1. Who was the only post-war British prime minister who attended university not to have gone to Oxford? The Rt Hon Gordon Brown
  2. Name one sitting MP, other than Dominic Raab, who is a martial arts black belt. Shailesh Vara
  3. Other than Boris Johnson, who is the only other prime minister to have been born outside the UK? Andrew Bonar Law
  4. Which sitting MP has a quadruple barrelled surname? Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax
  5. Which school gives pupils a day off when a former pupil becomes prime minister? Eton College
  6. Which Labour frontbencher’s father was a tool-maker? Sir Keir Starmer
  7. Which Lib Dems first name was a hit for Derek and the Dominos? Layla Moran
  8. Which sitting MP is the only MP to have appeared on BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’? Pete Wishart
  9. Which MP shares a name with a power station? Richard Drax
  10. Which hereditary peer and current government minister had previously founded (and then sold) his own public affairs consultancy? The Lord Bethell

Please email your answers to him before 5pm on Monday, April 27. Thanks in advance for your entries!

Has social media become more caring during Covid-19?

GUEST POST: Jonny Piper is a digital and creative communications expert, most recently working on the Conservatives General Election Campaign. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

The British pub quiz is one of life’s simple pleasures. Pull together a few friends, pick a team name and enjoy an evening racking your brain; how many moons does Saturn have? Who was the oldest UK Prime Minister to leave office?

And that’s how I spent last Thursday, while enjoying a rather lovely house red. Normally to be avoided, except in this case the house red meant just that – pouring myself a glass while sat at my kitchen table, listening to the – questions at home via WebEx, conferring with friends over Microsoft Teams and clinking glasses with my webcam.

Matt Hancock says coronavirus ‘thrives on social contact’, with social distancing measures a necessary mechanism to slow down the spread of infection. But we too also thrive on social contact, feeding off it to work, learn and grow.  So, it’s no wonder that the ability to continue communicating digitally with friends, family and colleagues has been so crucial and shouldn’t be taken for granted. What on earth would we be doing right now if not for the internet and social media to keep us working, connected, informed and entertained?

I’ve watched this seamless connectivity bring out the best of humanity: caring and compassionate communities that are using digital and social media to bring people together and look out for those in need. Across social media you’ll find businesses innovating and finding new ways of working, an army of digitally co-ordinated volunteers caring for the vulnerable, and individuals channelling their creativity to keep us entertained.

I almost daren’t say it, but I’ve also watched as social media has become more caring. The tone of our conversations is more empathetic. Businesses are abandoning competitive thinking and instead selflessly looking to philanthropy. Party politics and the online vitriol that so often follows has been replaced by a country unified in willing the government to succeed in combatting the virus.

And it’s that spirit which has made this technology so critical; my phone and laptop have become my eyes. WhatsApp and FaceTime have become ears. In isolation, social media has become my integral connection to the world, my lifeline. And in Britain today, the spirit of the Blitz isn’t found while crammed onto an underground station platform as the sirens sound, but instead found in Instagram Stories across the country as the nation pours out its support for our incredible NHS workers with an ocean of applause.

Yet there are constant reminders of the world beyond the screen. Netflix nudges us after a few hours of binge-watching to check that we’re still conscious, and tech companies have added ‘screen time’ features to remind us to step back and look up at the world around us. A digital lockdown, it seems, regularly taunts us of what we’re missing.

We don’t yet know what world we will find ourselves in post-coronavirus. Social media might suggest that we’ll be a more caring and considerate society, and I certainly hope that’s true. But I also hope that we’ll be more digitally aware, learning to switch off more and appreciate IRL contact. I, for one, will be making a meaningful effort to engage with the world around me and not get distracted by a vibrating pocket. Phones off everyone, the quiz is starting!

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Let’s be optimistic

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

I’m not an overly religious person, however I respect our Christian heritage and identity. While we pause to think about the 250 people killed and hundreds more wounded by suicide bombers in Sri Lanka last Easter, this weekend is generally considered a happy time for Christians – as they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that his resurrection symbolises that death is not the end. On this Maundy Thursday / National Winston Churchill Day / my birthday – during what is an unusual period in our nation’s history – I urge everyone reading this blog, whether you’re a believer or not, to reflect on this holy message of hope and to inject a bit of optimism into your outlook. As I’ve written countless times before: although optimism isn’t everything – it can make one hell of a difference.

Last summer – or BC (before Coronavirus), more than half of all Tory MPs and two-thirds of Conservative Party members voted for Boris Johnson during the leadership contest. In December, the electorate voted in one Conservative MP for each day of the calendar year. People roundly rejected ‘Project Fear’ and bought into Mr Johnson’s optimistic vision – to ‘get Brexit done’ and focus on the people’s priorities. He’s already delivered on the former and is working on the rest, such as controlling immigration, which is why – four months on – polling finds ratings that have not been seen for a British prime minister since the early days of Blair’s premiership.

Now that he is feeling under the weather – but improving, I reckon we owe it to ourselves to reject ‘Virus Fear’ and to cheer him on. While everyone can do their bit, some have additional responsibilities.

In my opinion, publishers, editors and journalists have a responsibility to educate and entertain. Now, every time someone tunes into the news, logs onto Twitter or picks up a newspaper, all they see is ongoing news about the number of deaths as well as who and how many people have been tested, and whether the heir to the throne is a priority (the answer is: yes); comparisons with other countries; talk about designated survivors; lessons about the UK constitution or lack thereof; speculation about caretaker leaders; and yes, plenty of codswallop from Piers Morgan. I understand that news channels have airtime and newspapers have column inches to fill but there must be a limit.

Further, for many people (politicians, their aides and PRs included), working from home during the lockdown presents an opportunity to spend more time talking to loved ones, friends and family, albeit by Zoom, Houseparty or whatever is the tool the whiz-kids have concocted. I say: embrace it!

Go for a walk and discover something new about your local area. Plan that big vacation to Greece and get into shape for it. I, for one, long for downing a pint of pale ale outside a traditional pub on a hot August day and sipping white wine by the swimming pool in Tuscany. Follow what’s going on with other populist campaigns around the globe, including President Trump vs the former VP Joe Biden – now that Bernie Sanders has finally dropped out – as well as growing support for both Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy as more and more Italians become disillusioned with the EU’s response to managing Covid-19.

And finally, (start or) keep reading. For books, try ‘The Churchill Factor’ by you know who or ‘The Gatekeeper’ by Baroness Fall. For newspapers, it must be The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post (by the way, do continue to buy them and support the industry). For magazines, try The Spectator and British GQ. And online, try alternative media such as Spiked and Politicalite. Before you know it, we will be back to normal and you’ll be complaining about not making the most of this time and weather.

Every death is tragic, and everything must be done to prevent more, flatten the curve and move forward. It’s why everyone must adhere to the government’s advice: to ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’, because, together, we can get through this – and, this summer, we’ll raise a glass to those loved ones we lost before their time and say Cheers! to our future.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website and has been republished by The Commentator (‘Let’s be optimistic!’ – April 8, 2020) and Politicalite (‘Despite Coronavirus, let’s be optimistic this Easter’ – April 9, 2020).

WFH: With trust comes freedom

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the government has advised businesses to enable their employees to work from home (WFH). For many, today was the first time they’ve done so. As someone who already benefits from a company policy that allows people to WFH from time-to-time, I wanted to share some thoughts and best practices for making a success of this new-found freedom. More freedom should always be a good thing!

Now is the time for everyone to stop all non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the first daily press conference on the coronavirus pandemic

For most industry sectors, working 9-to-5 is a thing of the past. In fact, for many in public relations and public affairs it hasn’t been a thing for a while. After the initial introductions, most interactions can be done over the phone or email. I don’t expect anybody to eat breakfast at their desk, hit ‘reply all’ to group emails or stay five minutes past 5pm – just to be “visible”. I do encourage folk to attend morning meetings, read (the daily news and books) and attend industry events – such as those hosted by Conservatives in Communications – to improve their knowledge and skills, and build their networks.

The key to making all this work is for managers – i.e. line managers not managers of other functions – to trust their teams. In turn, all colleagues must deliver – at home and in the office. It’s really that simple. Get it right and the benefits can be a-plenty.

  • Higher productivity. Don’t take my word for it – try Googling academic studies on this.
  • Greater availability. For example, people are more able to join calls with Asia and the US.
  • More time, be active. Spend more time with your friends and family. I use some of the time it would take me to get to and from the office to exercise and I’ve lost a stone and a half (10.5kg) since January.
  • More money. Instead of spending your hard-earned cash on overpriced coffees, £10 lunches and transport, spend it more wisely.
  • Support local. Where possible, spend it in the local community.

The reality is this: people need very little to do their job. In a similar vein to my blog post about 10 PR things to consider in 2020 and beyond, here’s a list (not exhaustive) of 10 tips on how to make a success of WFH and remain productive amidst the chaos:

1. Make space

Ideally, you’d have a home office – a separate and quiet space just for work. Not everyone has that luxury however, including most people who live in city apartments. Instead, it can be the corner of a spare bedroom or dining/living space. Preferably, it won’t be the kitchen table as you should avoid mixing home and work life. It also becomes difficult if there’s more than one occupant WFH or on holiday.

2. Right equipment

At a minimum, you will need a PC/laptop, internet/wi-fi and a mobile phone. If possible, buy a printer, shredder and a lamp.

3. Create routine

Establish one early on – that works for you (and hopefully for others). For example: get up by 7am, check inbox and social media channels, do exercise, get ready, work from 9am-12pm, pop out and grab some lunch, read the daily news, work 1-5pm with a break in between, do some personal chores, cook dinner/ attend event/ see friends and check emails etc. once during the evening. For the record, I don’t cook!

4. Be available

Be online. Be available. You shouldn’t have to prove yourself or over communicate, because you’ll be sat at your desk – albeit in your home.

5. Stay connected

Stay in contact with the outside world – colleagues and further afield. Setup phone/ video meetings, create colleague WhatsApp groups, follow social media channels and have the news or radio on in the background. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.

6. Get organised

Unless you rate them (I don’t!), you don’t need Microsoft Teams and other tools like Slack to do your job. Good old Microsoft Outlook, Google Suite and Skype are enough, and do share invites for personal time off.

7. Purposeful meetings

In terms of meetings – the fewer, shorter and more purposeful they are the better. Avoid scheduling meetings for meetings sake. Weekly should be enough – consider making them bi-weekly or even monthly. You don’t need to use the full hour – 45 minutes is ideal but aim for 30. For this to work, test connections, be on time and avoid all the clichés. Every meeting should have an agenda, which you stick to, and everyone is responsible for recording their actions.

8. Face time

WFH does not mean never seeing colleagues again. Face-to-face interactions are vital. Where possible, you should meet in-person at introductory meetings, networking events and yes, team socials.

9. Go outside

As mentioned early on, just because you’re now at home doesn’t mean you can’t go on the balcony/ walk around the garden/ go to the shop. It’s important to get fresh air!

10. Keep reflecting

Continuously reflect on what’s working well and isn’t, and shake-up accordingly.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This blog was republished by the public relations firm Vested.